Chelsea maintain seven-point lead at top of table with crucial 2-1 against Manchester City
Chelsea do the double over Manchester City as an Eden Hazard brace maintains Chelsea’s seven-point lead at the top of the table.
A goal inside the first 10 minutes by Hazard set Chelsea on their way, but Aguero was gifted an equaliser by Courtois’ howler. Hazard then scored his second off the rebound from his saved penalty to secure Chelsea precious points on a night where Tottenham won too.
The visitors won 3-0 at Stamford Bridge last season, but this loss means Manchester City, who were unbeaten in eight league matches, have now suffered six league defeats in a single season, the first time this has happened to any of Pep Guardiola’s clubs in his managerial career.
With Antonio Conte keen to not lose consecutive home league games as a head coach since November 2009, the Italian opted for a change of system and personnel: Zouma came in for Matic and dropped into the back three, with Azpilicueta moving to wing-back — Moses is still out injured — and Fabregas pushed further forward.
It was an experiment which started well and brought Chelsea a first goal inside 10 minutes. Hazard started a move he would later finish, swinging the ball wide to Azpilicueta who cut the ball back inside to Hazard, free inside the penalty box and shooting past Caballero, who managed to get a hand on the ball.
Fernandinho then tried his hand from range, whilst Aguero had an opportunity saved by Courtois, having driven 20 yards and sent the Chelsea back-line completely backing off and inviting Aguero in.
Fabregas had a chance to make more secure Chelsea’s lead from a Hazard counter but his central left-footed shot clipped Clichy and looped over Caballero and his bar.
How that would have helped the home fans as moments later the lead was completely wiped out. A howler of a clearance by Courtois brought about a two-on-one opportunity for Manchester City, with Silva finding space for a shot, before Aguero collected the ricochet and tapping home into an empty net. It was a gift of a goal and Aguero, who has four goals in his last three league appearances against Chelsea, was not about to pass it up.
Hazard had a chance straight away to restore his side’s lead, one-on-one with John Stones but Costa was stupid to clash with Delph off the ball, giving Mike Dean no choice but to stop play with Hazard in a state of confusion.
The end-to-end game saw Clichy then slide a ball across the Chelsea back-line as the Blues were losing their shape after City’s equaliser, with the Citizens finding space behind Kante.
But the break the hosts needed soon came from the penalty spot.
Fabregas fed Pedro with a delicate ball and, when Pedro cut back inside, he was felled by Fernandinho right in front of Mike Dean’s eyes for a stone-wall penalty. Whilst Hazard missed, he did gather the rebound to record his 13th goal of the season.
The Blues conceded two quick goals straight after taking the lead at Crystal Palace at the weekend so should have been extra careful after regaining the lead here, but Aguero was allowed to shoot — albeit wide — in further evidence that the visitors were not out of it.
In recognition of that, Conte abandoned his experiment in time for the second-half, with Pedro moving to right wing-back and Matic on for Zouma in the reshuffle, but whilst this system has been used before, it seemed to add even more confusion, at least in the initial stages, as Matic was caught ball-watching when the man he was marking from a free-kick, Vincent Kompany, managed to steer a header onto the crossbar. It was a let-off.
There have been four red cards in the last five league meetings between these sides, with three being shown to City players, but the first booking would only come in the 51st minute when Mike Dean carded Clichy for a careless foul.
The opportunities kept coming and Fernandinho blazed the ball over when five yards out and deemed onside despite replays suggesting he was off, whilst chance after chance continued coming the visitors’ way, with De Bruyne working a smart low free-kick to Sane but to no eventual avail.
Pedro tried to curl a shot in on the 67th minute but really Chelsea had been shutting up shot from around the 55th. Cahill read the situation well to stop Silva feeding in Aguero, but Chelsea had the best opportunity to put the game to bed on a counter-attack soon after. Pedro, Fabregas and Hazard were all each selflessly passing up the opportunity to score and giving the ball to one another, with Hazard eventually blazing over when City had enough men back. It was a chance missed and Conte knew it.
A late City flurry saw Aguero hit the side-netting from a wide angle — a huge chance but not as big as John Stones from two yards out, who failed to get the ball out of his feet in time and fired it high in the ensuing panic.
It was a late let-off for Chelsea, but the Blues preserve their lead — a Guardiola-managed side has never previously lost both league games against the same opponent in a single season — and crucially their seven-point lead.
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Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: The magician has sometimes been criticised for not turning up in big matches, but today the Belgian delivered. An early goal settled the nerves and, whilst his penalty was poor, the cool head from the rebound settled the points in the Blues’ favour. The 26-year-old was running rings around the City back-line all evening, and should have secured his hat-trick but for blazing his shot over, before he was substituted to a standing ovation. 8/10
Conte was pleased the Crystal Palace loss was only a blip: “At this time of the season it is easy to be nervous. There is a lot of pressure. Our reaction [to the weekend loss] was very good. We showed what it is to be a good team. I want to thank to the crowd because they pushed us. When you see your opponents continue to win, you must win to win the title. That is all we have to do.”
Guardiola was honest but spoke of longevity: “In the boxes we are not good enough. We created enough to score goals. It is our problem [but] it is an honour to have the amazing players I have. It is encouraging for the future.”